Emerging Print Technologies
ANY ATTEMPT to predict the course of technological development amounts to an educated guess at best. (After all, experts once said that Adobe Photoshop and the Mac would never be acceptable for professional graphic arts applications.)
That said, there’s a buzz in the air about three technological developments: printed electronics, security printing and lenticular. Each is still a work in process to a degree, so the exact size and nature of their market potential is yet to be determined.
The term “printed electronics” (printing of conductive inks) is being applied to such a range of processes and applications that it’s hard to make any definitive statements about the opportunities it presents. The raw numbers are very impressive, though.
In its market report—“Organic & Printed Electronics Forecasts, Players & Opportunities 2007-2027”—the IDTechEx research firm forecasts the market for currently and potentially printed electronics (including organic, inorganic and composite materials) to increase from $1.18 billion in 2007 to $48.2 billion in 2017, and more than $300 billion in 2027.
Today, conductive inks, sensors and OLED (organic light-emitting diode) displays account for almost all of that volume, the firm says, with 31.6 percent of these electronics already being fully or partially printed. That will rise to 90.3 percent by 2017, projects the Cambridge, Mass., firm.
The bad news: Aspects of the process are keeping offset lithography in the “possible future development” category. Also, much of the forecasted market potential of printed electronics is in making components for other manufacturing operations that may set it up as a captive process.
The Impact of E-paper
“Electronic” paper is the development track most likely to impact commercial printing in the near term. There are two technology branches:
E-paper developers have sought to produce cost-effective, flexible displays that can be used in place of printed materials. The initial flurry of activity has since tapered off.